Nutrition education expansion supports food security for Ohioans
By Anthony Rodriguez
Highland Elementary teacher Jill Vanhouten-Roth normally does most of the teaching for her second-grade class. But on a Friday morning in February, she handed the reins to Lindsey Blum and Brooke Moeller for a lesson on nutrition.
“Can anyone tell me a food that has dairy in it?” Blum asked.
Little hands shot up from the circle the children formed on the floor. Their voices rang out, telling the Franklin County Extension program assistants about the types of cheese, milk and yogurt they know.
Blum then showed the students the differences among the range of milk types, their fat and sugar content and why it is important to limit excess fat and sugar found in some dairy products.
The discussion was one of 15 put together by the college’s OSU Extension Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) professionals. FCS presents throughout Ohio as part of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education, commonly known as SNAP-Ed.
The west-side Columbus elementary school is just one of many where Blum and Moeller work in Franklin County, teaching nutrition and obesity prevention to low-income adults and youth.
Highland is one of several new locations for SNAP-Ed in 2016. It is possible because of a $7 million grant — a 133 percent increase from 2012 funding — awarded to the community outreach arm of Ohio State.
The significant expansion stems from a change in how the federal government supports the nutrition education program. The new algorithm is based on how many people in each state receive SNAP food aid. Previously, the government used a matching-funds grant model.
Fighting hunger in America
Food in America is not always easy to come by. One in six — more than 48 million people — face hunger.
Food insecurity affects 16.9 percent of Ohioans — higher than the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nearly 2 million of Ohio’s residents receive SNAP benefits.
Closing this gap is an important priority for the professionals in OSU Extension FCS.
Through SNAP-Ed and its sister program, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), FCS is leaving its mark on the nutrition practices of low-income Ohioans.
The programs reached more than 520,000 Ohioans in 2015 to change behaviors and teach residents how to make healthy choices about the food they consume.
“That’s the backbone. We reinforce physical activity and inexpensive food preparation that represents all the food groups.”
The SNAP-Ed professionals have emphasized more programs for youth, since minors make up 45 percent of those receiving food assistance through SNAP.
In just three years, SNAP-Ed has reached nine times the number of children and teens.
The substantial growth has occurred because of SNAP-Ed and EFNEP’s greater involvement in schools that have 50 percent or more of their students receiving free or reduced-price meals, said Pat Bebo, director of community nutrition for OSU Extension.
Today, with the latest funding increase for SNAP-Ed, OSU Extension FCS experts throughout the state expect their educational outreach to help even more participants select and prepare healthier food choices as well as maximize their SNAP benefits. This includes sharing cooking knowledge and skills, optimizing shopping strategies and teaching how to read nutrition labels.
The added funds also introduced the Cooking Matters program to Ohio — a nutrition education and cooking curriculum that will initially serve 20 Ohio counties. OSU Extension FCS also will be able to focus on long-term projects that help bring about major public health changes.
Strengthening communities for better health
The nutrition education in Vanhouten-Roth’s class is interactive to help reinforce what the students have learned. The second-graders bookended their dairy lesson with exercises and a memory game to review the benefits of the five food groups. Blum and Moeller ended the lesson by giving the children a dairy snack.
“We have seen many children make small life choices that will add up over time,” Blum said.
“I feel that without the 30-60 minutes a week that we get with them, they would not have had the tools to know that was a change they could make. It is very exciting to see them get excited about health and nutrition.”
OSU Extension FCS develops its engaging lessons so they are adaptable to the needs of the communities they serve. And teaching more children and youth about nutrition presents opportunities for adults to make changes, too.
“I love the fact that we are reaching children, and they take it home to their parents,” she said. “There are a lot of possibilities, and lessons are geared for different ages. The kids get to see and taste fruits and veggies in their whole forms. It’s getting them to try a variety of foods.”
At Highland Elementary, the impact SNAP-Ed is having can be felt throughout the school, Vanhouten-Roth said.
“This course gets them talking about nutrition,” she said. “I hear them in the cafeteria talking with their classmates about the food they are eating and the groups they come from. So it is definitely having an impact on their education.”
Help OSU Extension FCS engage more young learners: give.osu.edu/FCS